Sunday, November 23, 2014

100 years


We made the trek south to McDonough, Georgia on Saturday. My aunt Jessie Lee died this week, she lived 100 years. Whenever I hear her name or think of her I always think first of her smiling face, and second of food, she was a great cook and when at her house you didn't just visit, you ate.

This fact was driven home and elaborated on by the preacher at her funeral. The preacher just happens to be married to the granddaughter of Jessie Lee (MawMaw to them). In the service, he talked a lot about food, along with some family memories and stories.

I imagine it was the only time that Jessie Lee was at a funeral without bringing one of her delicious cakes. I hope some of her kids/grandkids/greatgrandkids learned to cook like she did.

When I was growing up, my dad's sisters and brothers would get together on Thanksgiving, taking turns every year at a different house, everyone bringing covered dishes. One year at Louise's, one year at our house in the mountains, one at Jessie Lee's. One year at Allene's house, but wait - not there as Allene didn't cook J.

When it was time to go to Jessie Lee's house, we all knew we were in for a treat as she was the best cook in the family. I remember her husband, Wilbur (my dad's older brother) would always be sitting back in the den in his recliner watching a ball game. My first cousins - Billy, Gloria, Barbara - were all older than me, all grown up with jobs and everything. So it was just me and cousin David who was 3 years younger than me. He would take me outside to play in his yard. We knew better than to venture into the junkyard next to the house, his father Wilbur's used parts business. But it was fascinating looking out over what seemed like acres of old cars seemingly just dropped off there, some rusted out, some without hoods or tires, grass growing up between them, a very tempting place to explore.

Then it would be time for dinner and we would all gather around Jessie Lee's table, drag Uncle Wilbur from the TV, and have a big family dinner. It felt good to be part of a big family, listening to the stories, seeing my dad with his siblings, noticing the resemblances. And all that food! Thanksgiving is a wonderful tradition and I learned early to be thankful for family.

Of course with time we all grew up and grew apart, it is sad but true, and like so many families the only time we see our cousins is at a funeral.

After the funeral yesterday we made our way over to the cemetery and watched Jessie Lee be laid to rest next to her husband and daughter. We wandered down through the grassy field turned cemetery looking at names (wow, I  have never seen so many Austins in one place) until we found my parents. Melissa remembered being there for my dad's funeral, the 21 gun salute, the souvenir shell casings gathered and given to the grandkids, the flag from the coffin being folded and presented to my mom. Carrie didn’t remember it as clearly, but she did remember the shots being fired, so loud!

I visited with my first cousins Billy and Barbara and met some new generations of Austins, it is good to connect to family.

Memories of the past filled the day on Saturday, I tried to remember and share some stories with my girls on the drive south. Like the one about the butter and egg money saved to buy a house in town, the Thanksgiving dinners, how Allene sold her house to the bank with the arrangement that she could live out her life there, but mostly about Jessie Lee and her smiling face and good food.

Rest in peace aunt Jessie Lee, like the preacher said, you affected hundreds of lives over your 100 years, and they are all better people for having had you in their lives.

I am glad to have had you in my life and family and memories, and honored to include you as a part of where I'm from.

your niece, Susan

1 comment:

Linda J said...

What a wonderful tribute to a lovely woman, Susan. I am sorry for your family's loss.